“Unlocked” by Gerald Zaltman

book coverRecommended to me by: Received a copy from Asakiyume who edited it

Gerald Zaltman is a marketing consultant for corporate executives and a professor emeritus of business administration at Harvard. The idea for this book came out of interactions with his young grandchildren. I do not belong to these target audiences, and the book did not resonate with me. I realized as I read the first few sections that the author had not won my trust, so I was engaging with the thought exercises warily, waiting to be tricked and tripped up.

The book starts off with a couple of ethical dilemmas, and then the rest is about many ways our thinking can be influenced that we might be unaware of, and unconscious assumptions we might be making. There was no mention of racism, sexism, or any other -isms that lead to unconscious biases affecting our thinking and responses.

While there is a section on embodied cognition, it is more about how, for example, holding a warm drink can make us perceive a person more warmly, rather than about how our bodies and minds are integrated. The rest of the book is very much disembodied, based on the premise that, “You are how you think.”

There were links to a couple of interesting related videos:

Selective Attention Test: Count the number of passes between players dressed in white.

A Portrait Session with a Twist: 6 photographers, one subject, 6 different stories.

The ebook contains live links and color illustrations. In one exercise, color names are printed in non-matching colors and the instruction is to say the color of the text rather than read the word. The gray-scale illustration in the printed book does not do the exercise justice.

Available at Amazon.

“All Your Worth” by Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Warren Tyagi

book cover

Subtitle: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan

Recommended to me by: Lis

This is a practical, down-to-earth book written in a warm, reassuring style by a mother-daughter team. The authors know that most readers will have a great deal of anxiety about finances, so they try to settle that first thing.

Their plan:
From your total income after taxes
50% Must-Haves
30% Wants
20% Savings

The goal is to get finances running smoothly so that they can be in the background rather than the foreground.

Their plan makes sense to me, which means it’s congruent with the financial advice I absorbed growing up. Minimize debt, even for a mortgage. Reduce recurring expenses as much as possible. Shop carefully for insurance, since it’s essentially betting against yourself. Saving is important. And, as I have learned over time, it’s important to have fun and enjoy life, too.

The plan is based on having a salary, so I’ve been thinking about how to apply it to a sole proprietor business. I think I’ll have to add a second set of categories for the business, and guesstimate the taxes as a straight percentage of income. Still, it seems useful enough to me to be worth going to the trouble of figuring out what my Must-Haves are.

They say Must-Haves are recurring expenses that you can’t put off for six months. Anything else goes into Wants. I think that blurs expenses for maintenance for the house and yard and business. Those can be delayed, but not put off forever. I might add a sub-category for that under Wants and see how much room it takes up. It’s also unclear to me where major expenses like a new roof fall. You save up for them, and they’re optional for a while until something goes wrong and suddenly they’re a Must-Have.

The book was published in 2005, and they have the same cheerfully optimistic advice about the stock market that I received with my first 401k in 1991. After losing my first chunk of retirement savings in the dot-bomb of 2001 and then watching my socially conscious investments stagnate, I no longer think the stock market is a viable savings strategy for socially conscious investors. I haven’t come up with a good alternate strategy, however.

I’ve also seen the rule, 10% of after-tax income for charity and making the world a better place. I was surprised not to see charity brought up anywhere in this book. I suppose that falls under Wants, but to me it seems like an important category. They wanted to keep things very simple.

The last section of the book is about planning for financial emergencies – job loss, serious illness, etc. Plan which Wants to cut first. Plan how to reduce Must-Haves if becomes necessary. It even has a section on how and when to declare bankruptcy.

Recommended for a practical, reassuring way to think about your finances.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Sacred Economics” by Charles Eisenstein

book cover

Subtitle: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition

Recommended to me by: Tina Tau

This book has a hopeful story about our current disastrous economic and political situation. In reaching for connection rather than separation, we can build a new sustainable world to emerge from the ruins of the old. I love that story, and the support it gives me for the ways I choose to live my life.

The book itself is repetitive, and attempts to convince by comparing an unsubstantiated idyllic past with an admittedly problematic present and attributing the difference to charging interest on money, as well as monetizing the Commons. I’m not convinced that ceasing to charge interest will return us to the idyll, nor am I convinced that it’s possible to wrest the world from the interest-charging people in power.

My doubts were awakened when the author blithely states in passing that poor people are fat because they are addicted to food because of scarcity. When I see such a blatantly false unsubstantiated statement in his book, I start questioning the rest of his narrative.

I also noticed that the book makes no mention of sexism or racism as it describes the appropriation of the commons. I didn’t notice any mention of most of the appropriation being done by white men. Seems like an egregious omission not to have that truth front and center. The Resistance is being led by middle-aged women, many of them of color. It rankles to be erased twice, first in being the ones who are stolen from, and second being the ones who are rebuilding.

I like the impulse to envision what we do want, rather than fighting what we don’t want. We need people to do both, and I am more suited to the former than the latter.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott

book cover

Subtitle: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time

Recommended to me by: Jessie Link

Susan Scott is a consultant to corporate CEOs, coaching them in fierce conversations. While the book does include some non-work examples, and carefully mixes or avoids pronouns, it also fails to address the power dynamics and mostly homogeneous demographics of CEOs. I found it difficult to see myself in some of the corporate examples, especially when the focus was on Susan Scott’s consulting business.

At the same time, there was a lot in the book that resonated for me.

“Successful relationships require that all parties view getting their core needs met as being legitimate.”

“There is something within us that responds deeply to people who level with us.”

Fierce conversations are defined as “robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled.” They avoid blame and attack.

7 Principles:

  1. Master the courage to interrogate reality. Reality keeps changing. What are you pretending not to know?
  2. Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real.
  3. Be here, prepared to be nowhere else. Speak and listen as if this is the most important conversation you will ever have with this person.
  4. Tackle your toughest challenge today.
  5. Obey your instincts. Trust your perceptions, but don’t be attached to them.
  6. Take responsibility for your emotional wake. The conversation is the relationship. Share appreciation and praise. Speak with clarity, conviction, and compassion.
  7. Let silence do the heavy lifting.

    I had the most trouble with Principle 4. While some people need encouragement to tackle challenges, others need encouragement to step back, or to take the smallest possible step forward at a time.

    The book includes frameworks for difficult conversations, and exercises for becoming more honest and self-aware.

    Available at Powell’s Books.

“Making a World of Difference: Personal Leadership” by Barbara Schaetti, Sheila Ramsey, Gordon Watanabe

Subtitle: A Methodology of Two Principles and Six Practices

Recommended to me by: a client

The goal of Personal Leadership is to improve intercultural relations in business and personal settings.

The two principles are mindfulness and creativity.

The six practices are:

  • attending to judgment
  • attending to emotion
  • attending to physical sensation
  • cultivating stillness
  • engaging ambiguity
  • aligning with vision

In a difficult situation, when we notice that “Something’s up!” a “Critical Moment Dialogue” can help apply the six practices and reach greater clarity about what action to take, if any. The goal is to respond mindfully and creatively to the unique situation rather than continuing on automatic pilot.

On one hand, a lot of what the authors describe aligns with what I practice and aspire to. On the other hand, the book leaves me feeling defensive. Even as it addresses complex multicultural situations, the assertion that we always create our (internal) reality seems too simplistic to me. The proposed techniques look powerfully effective, and at the same time they would be powerful fuel for an Inner Critic at the first hint of failure.

I have witnessed an abuser use similar principles to maintain control over a victim. “You create your reality, so if you’re upset, it’s just your stuff [rather than a valid response to abuse].” A book like this feels incomplete when the downsides of the proposed techniques are not addressed.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler

Subtitle: Tools for talking when stakes are high

Recommended to me by: Pair Programming is Built on Crucial Conversations

The first chapter made me wary, trying too hard to convince me that dialogue is important. I already knew that. But then the book started offering new ideas.

Crucial conversations have opposing opinions, strong emotions, and high stakes. It’s important to notice when one is happening.

We don’t have to accept the Fool’s Choice: stay silent or create a blow up.

The first goal is to fill the pool of shared meaning, encouraging everyone to share their facts and opinions. Important questions:

  • What do I really want for myself?
  • What do I really want for others?
  • What do I really want for the relationship?

When someone becomes silent or violent, they no longer feel safe. The goal changes to increasing safety. Notice how people are responding, not just the content of the conversation. Silence: masking, avoiding, withdrawing. Violence: controlling, labeling, attacking.

Safety requires mutual purpose to start the conversation and mutual respect to continue it.

  • Do others believe I care about their goals in this conversation?
  • Do they trust my motives?
  • Do they believe I respect them? (Look for ways we are similar.)

To fix safety: apologize, contrast misunderstandings with actual purpose, create a mutual purpose.

Question your stories, start with facts, state interpretations tentatively, encourage the other person to add their viewpoint. Ask, mirror, paraphrase, prime/guess. Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person act that way?

Decide how to decide: command, consult, vote, consensus. Who cares? Who knows? Who must agree? How many people is it worth involving? Who does what by when, followup.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Find a Job Through Social Networking” by Diane Crompton

Subtitle: Use Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and More to Advance Your Career

Recommended to me by: Nancy Hyde

A practical guide to networking online. Details about how to use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as more general networking tips on “building one’s brand.”

I read this a little at a time over a few months. The first few chapters were too basic for me, since I’ve had an online presence for 20 years. Then I got stuck on the exercises to develop one’s message and tagline, since it didn’t feel like the right time to do that work in relation to finding a software job. I skimmed through the rest, which has specific details on different online networks.

Useful tips: there are networks based in Europe, like xing.com. Groups on LinkedIn help raise one’s visibility. Facebook is being used more for business networking.

This book has good, basic advice for networking and job hunting. The examples are a little too cheerily positive for my taste, but of course they’re going to use successful examples. Recommended if you want to learn more about this topic.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Referral of a Lifetime” by Tim Templeton

Subtitle: The Networking System That Produces Bottom-Line Results… Every Day!

Recommended to me by: Karen Wehrman

A quick and amusing read, this book teaches a method of getting referrals and building business, illustrated with fictional vignettes. The vignettes are slightly dated in their attitudes toward women, but at least women are shown as successful business owners.

The system is based on treating customers and contacts with integrity, staying in touch consistently, and asking for referrals. While it is recommended to outsource sending “items of value” every month (the author’s business provides that service), it is also recommended to make the system fit each particular business.

I recently realized that my business is personal, not personalized. I send hand-written thank you notes, not cards printed by a service. I spend a couple of days each month writing a substantive article to send to my mailing list.

While I don’t think this book outlines the only way to succeed at business, and I don’t think it’s a perfect fit for my business, I’m going to keep thinking about the suggestions and how they might apply. It wouldn’t hurt to emphasize my commitment to service and ask for referrals more often!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Bright-sided” by Barbara Ehrenreich

Subtitle: How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America

Barbara Ehrenreich starts with the personal – her surprise at the mandatory positivity around her breast cancer diagnosis – and veers to the political – how delusional positivity contributed to the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. In between, she gives a brief history of New Thought, Christian Science, business and life coaching, and positive psychology, with unsubtle negative digs at the people involved. She also draws connections between megachurch pastors and corporate CEOs.

I read this book with an odd mix of relief and defensiveness.

I completely agree that delusional positivity is frightening and unhelpful, and it’s a relief to see that clearly pointed out. She describes feeling alone in a big coaching seminar because no one else was acknowledging the misuse of quantum physics. I’ve been in that situation, wondering if I’m the only one in the room politely not laughing at the pseudo-science rather than eagerly swallowing it whole.

At the same time, a more grounded positivity has been helpful in my life. Asking “What am I doing right?” rather than “What am I doing wrong?” shifts my focus and allows me to see that, in fact, I am doing a lot of things right. I have benefited from a life coach’s services. My own work borders on coaching and sometimes involves helping clients shift their focus to positive aspects of their situations.

Overall, I enjoyed the beginning and ending of the book, but wished the middle held fewer judgments about various people’s appearance and “invalidism”. I hope people will heed her call to awareness, realism, and action, while maintaining hope that change is possible.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?” by Seth Godin

Recommended to me by: Seth Godin’s blog

Seth Godin brings together several of his ideas about how to survive in our changed economy. His main premise is that non-thinking “factory” work is no longer the road to security. “Factory” is in quotes because he uses it to include any job which involves following the rules and doing what the boss says.

He redefines several other words, including “art” (a gift that changes the recipient), and “artist” (someone who gives such gifts in a business context).

I love his idea of “emotional work”, which is one of the possible ways to make “art.” Emotional work includes both confronting ones own resistance, and creating genuine connections with others. I know I’m much more likely to frequent a shop where the employees or owners give me the gift of emotional connection.

Which brings us to his main definition, “linchpin”: someone who does their emotional work, creates art, gives that little bit extra to both coworkers and customers, and becomes essential to a business.

He talks at length about the importance of “shipping” – completing the art or product and sending out into the world – and the “lizard brain” or resistance that gets in the way. This was the most problematic redefinition for me, because he makes it clear that he’s referring to the amygdala and limbic system, which evolved in mammals, not reptiles.

While it’s useful to think of resistance as a separate voice and notice what it’s saying without letting it take over, I was uncomfortable with the dismissive, combative attitude he seemed to be promoting. I’m more comfortable with the compassionate attitude in Cheri Huber’s How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, which I happened to be reading at the same time.

The writing is choppy, reminiscent of his pithy, paragraph-long blog posts. I read his blog with interest every day, but find the style distracting in a full book.

Seth Godin has also published the book’s ideas in a freely available PDF.

Available at Powell’s Books.